2018 was a wild year for North Carolina politics. Don’t expect things to get any tamer in 2019.
For this column, I tried to stay away from anything safe — so predicting that Dan Forest will announce a run for governor was out. Bold predictions only. Here we go.
1) 9th Congressional District goes to special election — and Republicans hold the seat
One way or another, expect the absentee by mail election fraud to prevent Republican Mark Harris from being seated. Either the U.S. House or the State Board of Elections will force a new race, sending the 9th Congressional District back to a primary.
In a crowded primary field, the Republican Party will nominate a new candidate. And in a race with millions of dollars poured in from national groups, the Republican will edge out a victory over Democrat Dan McCready.
2) General Assembly fails to pass a budget
Without the benefit of a supermajority, Republicans in the state legislature could have a lot harder time getting bills passed. Gov. Roy Cooper will continue his torrid vetoing pace in 2019.
The long session will produce a budget that passes handily in the state House and Senate, including a massive teacher pay raise. But Republican leadership will maintain the personal income tax rate and shave another quarter-point off the corporate tax rate — drawing a gubernatorial veto.
Without the votes to override, North Carolina will remain budgetless. Luckily, the General Assembly has already thought through this scenario and required the state to maintain its existing budget in the absence of a new one.
3) Roy Cooper’s approval ratings fall significantly
After two years of being able to stay above the political fray and serve as a fundraiser and figurehead, Gov. Roy Cooper will be forced in 2019 to make actual consequential decisions. In doing so, his stock will fade in the eye of the public and Cooper’s sky-high approval ratings will come down to earth.
4) Charlotte tries to back out of hosting the Republican National Convention
In a tumultuous municipal election, Charlotte’s City Council will turn over their more moderate Democratic members and install a council that’s much farther to the left.
After the council narrowly voted to support hosting the 2020 RNC by a 6-5 vote, the new council will mount a campaign to withdraw. They’ll have the votes — but only the veto of Mayor Vi Lyles will keep the RNC in Charlotte.
5) Jeff Jackson, Kathy Manning and Linda Coleman headline crowded Democratic U.S. Senate primary
Smelling blood, Democrats will pack the primary to challenge U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis in 2020.
N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson will be the prohibitive favorite, but Democrats will continue to be self-conscious about putting forward white male candidates. Energized by relatively close Congressional races in 2018, Linda Coleman and Kathy Manning will throw their hats in the ring.
6) Supreme Court punts on gerrymandering and Republicans re-draw Congressional districts for 2020
The SCOTUS will again refuse to make a definitive ruling on partisan gerrymandering, too worried about what the ripple effects would be of setting a framework for what’s legal and what’s not. This will set off another two years of uncertainty and ping-ponging court decisions.
Expecting a federal Court of Appeals to insist on new lines drawn by a special master, the General Assembly will preemptively draw new ones for the 2020 contest that will effectively cede one seat in the delegation (sorry, George Holding) but maintain Republican dominance.
7) State overhauls economic incentive structure
Chastened by continually losing out on major economic development projects, North Carolina will give up on minor tweaks to per-job grants and make wholesale changes to how they recruit new business.
There will be a bitter fight among Republicans, some of whom prefer the incentive-heavy South Carolina model and some of whom prefer creating fertile ground with low taxes and
8) A third-party candidate gets elected … somewhere.
The Green Party and Constitution Party were the first of North Carolina’s new third parties to get ballot access, and they’ll get much more organized in 2019. Between those two and the Libertarians — one of the parties will win a seat somewhere on some board or council.